It is generally assumed that deforestation affects a species consistently across space, however populations near their geographic range edge may exist at their niche limits and therefore be more sensitive to disturbance. We found that both within and across Atlantic Forest bird species, populations are more sensitive to deforestation when near their range edge. In fact, the negative effects of deforestation on bird occurrences switched to positive in the range core (>829 km), in line with Ellenberg’s rule. We show that the proportion of populations at their range core and edge varies across Brazil, suggesting deforestation effects on communities, and hence the most appropriate conservation action, also vary geographically.

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Data availability

Bird occurrence datasets and derived datasets are available from https://osf.io/4pbzt/. We do not have rights to redistribute the underlying forest cover (SOS Mata Atlântica, Instituto Florestal) and range polygon (BirdLife) data, but these datasets are available for use under licence.

Code availability

Code used to perform the analysis is available from https://osf.io/4pbzt/.

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We thank R. D. Holt, C. Rahbek, M. J. Crawley and R. Ewers for comments on the study and manuscript. This paper represents a contribution to the Grand Challenges in Ecosystems and the Environment Initiative of Imperial College. We acknowledge the use of the Imperial College Research Computing Service (https://doi.org/10.14469/hpc/2232). This research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council (grant nos. NE/H016228/1, NE/K016393/1) and FAPESP (process no. 2012/51872-5).

Author information

Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: C. David L. Orme, Sarah Mayor.


  1. Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London, Ascot, UK

    • C. David L. Orme
    • , Sarah Mayor
    • , Jack H. Hatfield
    • , Jason M. Tylianakis
    •  & Cristina Banks-Leite
  2. Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich, Irchel Campus, Zürich, Switzerland

    • Sarah Mayor
  3. Laboratório de Ornitologia e Bioacústica, Programa de Pós-Graduação em Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Estadual de Londrina, Londrina, Brazil

    • Luiz dos Anjos
  4. SAVE Brazil—Birdlife International Afiiliate, São Paulo, Brazil

    • Pedro F. Develey
  5. Applied Conservation Ecology Lab, Programa de Pós-graduação em Ecologia e Conservação da Biodiversidade, Universidade Estadual de Santa Cruz, Ilhéus, Brazil

    • José Carlos Morante-Filho
  6. Departamento de Ciências Biológicas, Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana, Feira de Santana, Brazil

    • José Carlos Morante-Filho
  7. School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

    • Jason M. Tylianakis
  8. Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas, Nazaré Paulista, Brazil

    • Alexandre Uezu


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L.A., P.F.D., J.H.H., J.C.M., A.U. and C.B.L. collected the data. C.D.L.O., S.M., J.M.T. and C.B.L. analysed the data. C.D.L.O., S.M. and C.B.L. wrote the paper. All authors contributed to the text.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to C. David L. Orme or Cristina Banks-Leite.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figs. 1–4 and Supplementary Tables 1–3

  2. Reporting Summary

  3. Supplementary Data 1

    List of species detected in each study and number of sites in which the species was detected.

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